A public meeting was held on 14th October 1869 attended by Leicester citizens disposed to encourage the foundation of a school of art. Following on from the success of that meeting, subscriptions were asked for which enabled the committee to secure premises in Pocklington's Walk. Classes met there for the first time on 1st March 1870. From 1882 technical classes were also held with the aim of preparing skilled workers for local industry.
In 1897 the School was taken over by the Town Council of the County Borough of Leicester and renamed the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School. A new building (now known as the Hawthorn Building) was constructed allowing the art and technical classes to be brought together for the first time. On the technical side classes included boot and shoe manufacture, engineering, plumbing, painting and building trades, and textiles; while on the art side design and modelling, life classes and anatomy, still life, geometry and perspective, architecture, book binding and embroidery were offered.
The School went through various changes of name. In 1919 it was restructured into two separate departments, called the City of Leicester School of Arts and Crafts and the City of Leicester Technical School. In 1925 this was changed to City of Leicester College of Arts and Crafts and City of Leicester College of Technology, and in 1929 became the Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology.
In 1969 the Colleges formally amalgamated to form the City of Leicester Polytechnic. In 1975 this merged with the Leicester College of Education and was known as the Leicester Polytechnic. In 1992 the institution was awarded university status and changed its name to De Montfort University.